what you drive what pictures you post on Facebook and I’ll tell you who you are
Social networks and applications are where the physical and virtual worlds collide, enabling the rapid rise of new versions of existing forms of mobility. For example, online ridesharing services such as BlaBlaCar, carsharing services such as Enjoy and Car2Go and alternative taxi services such as Uber and Lyft are revolutionising the way we travel. With smartphones and new apps we are no longer limited to trains, buses, official taxis and rides with people we know.
The internet community is the new neighbourhood, with trust established virtually, thanks to the perception of a close-knit cyber community whose social rules mimic those of the real one. The user rating process has replaced village gossip and censure, connections on social networks have replaced kinship bonds, and all of these, at their best, function to ensure community norms and expectations are met.
Of course, these forms of behavioural control only work because humans are predisposed to seek conformity and social approval. For this reason, mobility choice models need to consider social influences, yet a majority of mobility surveys do not gather this information. One way to understand these influences is to break them down into different contexts: behavioural context (how much effort do I need to make?), social context (will this increase or decrease my social status?), internal context (is this how I see myself?) and external context (how much will this cost me in terms of time or money?). These elements lead to an assessment of intrinsic value, which is no longer just a question of safety and convenience, but increasingly one of “is this how I want to appear to others?”
The haves and have nots, then and now
In the past, high status might have been conveyed through an expensive car and low status through the use of public transportation. This is now changing as connectedness, the latest smart devices and an influential Facebook or Twitter page impart an instant prestige that transcends profession and geography. In this new world, mobility is infused with meaning as both the source of emotionally and socially fulfilling experiences and as a potential arbiter of status.
So if the use of public transportation and the sharing of cars and bikes no longer is a signifier of low status, what is? Unfortunately there is a widening gap in Europe between the mobility haves and have nots, those who because of economic factors, religion, gender, age, disability or other issues are mobility restricted.
“For low mobile groups, restricted mobility freedom may be felt in the development of low community self-esteem. This leads both to negative forms of social reinforcement within the excluded community, manifested in increasing xenophobia and an increase in radicalized behaviour, particularly where the community can build mobility discontent into a wider sense of exclusion; for example the exclusion felt by different ethnic or faith groups, women, the poor, the dependent and the disabled.”
– from an upcoming MIND-SETS report
In short, mobility restrictions chip away at a person’s sense of belonging and self-esteem. And that’s not the only negative consequence; in communities chronically deprived of mobility options, this frustration can even lead to social unrest. New trends such as personalised, customised and automated mobility seek to address some of these inequalities, but much still remains to be done in this area. For this reason, making mobility more inclusive is a key concern of the MIND-SETS project.
Talkin’ ’bout my generation
An important factor for the acceptance of new technology (and thus the “new mobility”) are generational differences. Digital Aboriginals (born after 2000), Millennials (born between 1985 and 1999), Prime Busters (born between 1965 and 1984), Babybloomers (born between 1955 and 1970), and Master Boomers (born between 1940 and 1955) have dissimilar values, experiences, perceptions and priorities that will lead them to evaluate mobility options in very distinct ways. For example, Digital Aboriginals, Millennials and Prime Busters are likely to be enthusiastic about new smart solutions and collaborative mobility services, while Babybloomers and Master Boomers might be more hesitant to accept them. This has important consequences for how travel products and services are developed and marketed, and how policies might encourage greater acceptance of new products, services and technologies, particularly among those groups least likely to adopt them.
In other words, the social, psychological and generational aspects of mobility are not merely peripheral concerns to be tacked on to economic models, but are an integral part of the decision-making process.
Because mobility isn’t just transportation: mobility is identity.